Friday, August 4, 2023

Palia Closed Beta: First Impressions

 I had something else scheduled for today's post but as soon as I opened my email this morning and found

<< this in my inbox I figured I'd be changing my plans. There's no NDA, something developers Singularity6 have thoughtfully flagged up as soon as you log into the beta, so after playing for about an hour, I'm free to give my very first impressions.

I would've played a lot longer but my client lost connection to the server and I took it as a hint. I'd already taken a couple of dozen screenshots and made a few notes, so why wait?

Let's begin at the very beginning. A very good place to start. (Sorry, but Palia does have a Julie Andrews kind of feel to it, what with the innocence and the mountains and the vaguely Alpine fashions.)

Download and installation was very quick and easy. Nothing of note to report. It's a 15GB footprint, on the small side for an MMORPG, I'd say.

Almost the first thing you see when you log in is what in EverQuest's glory days used to be known as the "Play Nice" policy, here known rather charmingly as "Village Values". This sort of thing never worked all that well back in the day but I think it's safe to say it'll be taken a lot more seriously now.

These days, my aging PC regularly fails to meet the minimum specs for new games but it makes the cut for Palia, although every setting defaulted to "Low", which made everything look somewhat bland. I think that may be a beta issue because, when I went into Settings and asked the game to auto-select the correct levels for my system, it changed them all to "Medium". 

That made the game much prettier and I imagine it's a lot prettier still on the highest quality. Maybe I'll get to see it that way soon. I'm planning on upgrading my graphics card in September which, along with the boost to 16GB Ram and the new 1TB SSD I've already added this year, ought to see me fit to play most new games for another year or two.

Getting back to Palia, first I had to make myself a character. That was fun.

No, it was. And it isn't, always. I'm often conflicted about Character Creation. If it's too basic I chafe over the lack of variety but if it's too complex I get annoyed about being asked to deal with a level of detail no-one is ever going to see. 

Palia, I think, has it about right. There are lots of choices but no sliders. You can pick from a largish selection of presets - head shape, hair style, eye make-up, all the usual suspects - but it never feels overwhelming. It took me about ten or fifteen minutes to come up with a character and a look that I really liked.

Given the nature of the game, you'd expect there to be some nods to current trends on diversity and there are. More than nods, actually. I think Palia is probably the first MMORPG I've played where there's a hejab option. 

Not that the word is ever used. It's just there, along with a number of hairstyles that most likely have significance to some. Without it feeling like anyone was trying to make overt socio-political statements, the whole process seemed pretty much on point with what really ought just to be the norm nowadays. 

There's no mention of gender at all, as is becoming the baseline for these things. I was kind of expecting to be asked for my preferred pronouns at some stage but that didn't happen. I was asked to give my character both a full name and a nickname, the latter of which the inhabitants of the world would use when they spoke to me. I guess it does neatly sidestep the pronoun issue if the NPCs just call you by your nickname all the time. 

As for overall appearance, it's all about body-type now, which works for me. I picked one of the two options and set about making one of the cliched characters I almost always make in games that only allow you to be a human. It's as well I was able to make something I was happy with because as yet there are no do-overs.

Normally I don't appreciate only being able to be a human but it is sort of par for the course in games that look like this so I was expecting it. What I wasn't expecting was for my character's humanity to be called out immediately as unusual. All the players in the game are human but none of the NPCs are, which is certainly a twist. 

There's a short cut-scene and then it's into the game proper - whereupon there's another cut-scene. It's not exactly on Final Fantasy XIV level but it does seem that cut-scenes might be more of a thing in Palia than I'd have guessed. Luckily, they're pretty good cut-scenes. Also short.

It could, of course, just be that cut-scenes feature heavily in the tutorial. Palia has the kind of tutorial I strongly favor, one where you just get asked to do things you'd probably want to do anyway in the place where you'd expect to be doing them, namely the core game-world, rather than doing something overly dramatic and portentous in some instance you'll never see again.

I ran around for an hour doing all the things you'd expect. I learned how to use WASD to move, how to use Space to jump and Shift to sprint. I learned I could climb up vertical surfaces by running at them. I learned how to talk to NPCs by pressing F and how to switch between tools like axes and picks by pressing R.

Every system I was shown worked smoothly and felt comfortable.  Most were very familiar from similar systems in other games but I felt almost instantly at home with even those that were new to me. 

In a clever narrative wrinkle, when I arrived at the village inn in search of a room, I was told they were all full with all the strange humans who'd suddenly started appearing and I'd have to go camp out in the woods instead. From there I received a plot of land of my own, which I had to clear of rubble before crafting my own tent.

When I came to place it, I was taken aback by the size of the thing. I'd been expecting something like the pup tent you get in New World but when I put it up, it turned out to be a giant marquee. I'm not sure what the point of it is because I hadn't even gone inside to look around before I was off on another mission to speak to the mayor about getting a house.

I also spoke to the mailman, who delivered me letters from the locals responsible for training new arrivals in hunting and fishing, along with a bow and arrows and a fishing rod. Not sure how those fitted into my mailbox. 

I spoke to someone who was going to teach me how to cook, to a gardener who gave me some seeds and told me how to plant them and to several more villagers I just happened to bump into. It sounds like a lot but I found it well-paced and not at all confusing. 

It helped very much that all the dialog was well-written and all the Villagers had distinct, if also distinctly one-note, personalities. In that sense it reminded me greatly of the My Time At Portia/Sandrock games, although I imagine it's something of a staple approach within the genre.

As in those games, you can ingratiate yourself with the villagers you meet by chatting with them, something I did by accident before the tutorial got around to explaining it, always assuming it's going to. I noticed there's also some kind of system whereby the responses you choose have an elemental code - Earth, Air, Fire and Water - which presumably means something. 

Again, whatever that meaning might be has yet to be explained but I'm happy for it to take a while. I don't need to be spoon-fed. I'm eager to find outwhat else the game may have to offer but I'm in no hurry.

It's very early days but I think I've already taken to Palia. It looks like it'll be fun and in comparison with some beta/Early Access titles I've played, it already feels polished and professional. I'm sure there will be rough edges but I haven't scraped up against any so far.

I like the look of the world and more importantly I like the look of my character, something that always makes a huge difference in terms of whether I feel like logging into a game. (I've actually only just realised she looks uncannily like my first wife, back when we'd just met...)

There are all the usual attractions associated with gathering, building and decorating to look forward to but I get the sense there may also be some kind of plot. If there is, it feels like it might be an interesting one. 

We'll see. I think, even on this brief introduction, it's safe to say I'll be exploring Palia for a while.


  1. I was excited enough to go buy some kind of pre-order bundle to get in (helps this is day 1 of a 4-day mini-vacation for me) but there doesn't seem to be a way to buy into the closed beta. What kind of capitalists are these people!!? :)

    1. I found it weird that they were runing a one-week closed beta with no NDA that segues directly into open beta, which is effectively soft launch, with all progress being kept right from the start. As soon as you commit to no more wipes, it's launch, isn't it? Which means they launched at the begining of this "Closed Beta", so why not just call it Early Access, let everyone in and have done with it?

  2. The process for who gets into the closed beta is frustratingly obtuse. I'd already played the alpha, so you'd think I'd be on the shortlist, but they haven't so much as sent me an email notification that beta has started, let alone an invite to play. They were happy to spam about every alpha test...

    I wouldn't mind so much except I was hoping to get in early so as to have more time to write my first impressions piece for MOP.

    Anyway, glad you're enjoying it. My impression from the alpha wasn't terribly positive, but it's been a while since I actually played, so maybe things have improved.

    1. See my comment to Nimgimli re the craziness of the beta process. As for the game itself, I've only played for a couple of hours and I'm still in the tutorial so it's hard to say how much content there is or how well it'll hold my interest. It's certainly slick for a beta, though, and the other first impressions pieces that are starting to roll in seem positive, so I have hopes.

  3. "Without it feeling like anyone was trying to make overt socio-political statements, the whole process seemed pretty much on point with what really ought just to be the norm nowadays."

    This is the way, honestly. Companies that make a huge song and dance out of basic decent inclusivity, with giant rainbow arrow signs, flashing all summer long, pointed at, say, the 0.4s-long lesbian kiss in the trailer, are barely better than those that don't bother at all. They're certainly not very far along on the normalisation journey!

    Anyway, Palia looks rather neat, but the human-only PC thing is a bit of a turn-off, especially since the NPCs suggest the assets for other races are feasible. (I realise that it's not a 1:1 correspondence, and that PC equivalents mean some extra work, but still.) Makes me curious as to what the story behind that is, in-universe.

    1. The whole thing seems to revolve around the fact that there used to be humans but they all went away/died off long ago but now, somehow, they're back, so players being human is a plot point. I'm not far enough along the narrative to be able to say why humans are retrning or what it suggests for the future of either the game or the world but clearly it's a significant part of the narrative.

      It is only beta, so I guess the option to be other races/species could come later. Since the only apparent difference between humans and whatever the villagers are (Haven't seen it named yet.) is their sticky-out ears, I can't imagine it would present any kind of technical hurdle but then again, if the only difference is the ears, why bother? There are also robots, so that could be an option...

  4. You are able to change your physical appearance and gender in the wardrobe, despite that warning. They may take this capability away at launch, I guess.


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